Book 5, Chapter 65

Complicated Choices

Richard almost collapsed by the time Senma’s troops made it to the Unpassable Wall. This brief defence had been even more difficult than the battle through the fortress; with thousands of warriors attacking them from both ends, his advantages in positioning and individual prowess were almost burnt away.

Leaning against his weapon, he watched as the last of the Resting Orchid soldiers on the bridge were killed off, and knew that the plane was his. There were no other such natural fortifications on the road to the Godnest, and his rune knights could decimate any number of opponents on an open battlefield.

Still, he couldn’t bring himself to be happy at all. Much as he was loathed to, his blessings made sure he knew exactly how many of his soldiers were dead. Only 84 shadowspears were still active in his consciousness, a result of countless sacrifices made to save the rest. Even so, over ten rune knights had perished while some of his followers had sustained serious injuries. Io and Nyra had been forced into the melee as well, with the latter being especially hurt.

There were many times during the battle where he couldn’t swing his blades any longer. It took the combined weight of hundreds of gazes all looking to him for guidance to fuel his empty body, and even despite activating the well of stars repeatedly his mana pool was drained completely dry. Teeth clenched hard, he had continued to push his breaking body to greater depths for every single kill.

All the rune knights saw was their master fighting without end, not taking a moment’s break as his dagger and sword danced from enemy to enemy without end. The sight had spurred themselves to detach from their pain, submitting to the fight for the sake of victory. That blind devotion to his commands had, in turn, given Richard the tiniest amount of leeway he needed to make it through.

Miracles were often created just like this; they weren’t the product of just one individual’s effort.

Although the death toll pained him, Richard knew that he had done his utmost. Even Gaton had been unable to conquer the Unpassable Wall, so it was inevitable that one would need to make sacrifices to do so.

He tried to walk forward, but the moment his body left the support of his sword he stumbled down. Lina rushed over and supported his body, a complicated expression on her face as she suppressed the words she wanted to say.

Richard’s gaze gradually swept across the entire fortress, “Lina… This shouldn’t have been impossible for Gaton to do. Why did your war end in a stalemate?”

Hearing the mention of Gaton, the Dragon Mage grew even more troubled. She broke eye contact, staring into the distance as she calmed herself, “Lord Gaton could have broken through this wall that day. However, he was unwilling to give up his rune knights for the charge. There were two legendary beings facing us at the time, and despite heavily injuring one and beating back the other our own losses were starting to mount. This plane didn’t have any specialties either, so it would be impossible to recoup the costs. For us, every rune knight took a long time to replace…”

Richard nodded, understanding what she meant. Even at his peak, Gaton’s wealth hadn’t approached a tenth of what Richard could make. He didn’t have shadowspear knights to protect his core elites, and even if he did such soldiers had their own value. There was a hint of blame to Lina’s tone; more than half of the shadowspears had perished, a cost that could not be recouped from this place before at least a few decades.

This was only common sense. Invasions were a battle of life and death only to those on the receiving end; the aggressors needed to worry more about the costs versus the benefits. Oftentimes, it was more valuable to secure a landing point before slowly expanding one’s territory; most of the profit to be made from a plane came in the initial bits of land that were conquered.

As Lina continued to look away and ramble on, she suddenly felt something strange about the lack of reply. Turning back to stare at him once more, she realised he had fainted in her arms. The Dragon Mage almost screamed in shock, laying him down before running all over the battlefield to look for clerics.

Eventually, she dumped Io and Nyra in front of him and started pacing back and forth. However, the two heavenly guardians just made a cursory check of Richard’s body and announced that he had just fainted from the exhaustion and wounds. Given enough rest, he would recover completely.

As the two stared at her in confusion, wondering why she didn’t realise this herself, Lina turned red and started acting angry to try and fool them. However, they just looked at each other and snickered in open mockery. In that moment, Kaloh had almost been unleashed on the battlefield once more.

……

Richard woke up to find himself in an unfamiliar room, the wooden ceiling carved in a style foreign to him. Shaking off the grogginess to remember where he was, he struggled up from bed only to realise that most of his wounds were healed. There was a feeling of numbness all over his body, clearly from a spell to numb pain.

When he finally relaxed after confirming his body was alright, his stomach started to rumble. For a moment it almost took over his rationality, and he found himself on the verge of gnawing at the bedside table. It took a great exercise of willpower to stagger outside, calling for the guards to send him food as soon as possible.

When the first batch of bread and jerky arrived, it was immediately swept clean. However, this only made him hungrier and he called for more. Five servings and ten grown men’s worth in food later, he felt half full. He wanted to continue eating, but try as he might he couldn’t stuff another morsel down his throat. Even with his powerful stomach, there was a physical limit to what he could eat.

Looking at the empty plates that filled the table, Richard reminisced about the scrumptious meals in the Deepblue and from the royal family. However, he quickly shook his head to stop himself from salivating, sitting and recovering his strength for a few minutes before heading out to check on his followers.

Waterflower was laid quietly on a bed, chest rising and falling in the soft rhythm of deep sleep. Io was sitting right beside her, expression screaming fatigue as his hands continued to channel a gentle mist of divine power into her body. Seeing Richard’s arrival, he pulled his hands back and sighed loudly, “You’re awake? Just in time, look at her! She almost killed herself!”

Richard felt his heart clench as he walked over, almost picking Io up from the ground in his anxiety, “How is she?”

Io snorted, “How? Lucky to be alive! Her organs were turned into mush, and healing her was more draining than even resurrection! I don’t understand, who would even use their body to block a blade, and that too for your sake? I would have let you get cut in half without a second thought!”

Richard let go of Io’s collar, gaze softening as he turned back to Waterflower, “Thank you.”

Completely stumped by the genuine gratitude, Io just shook his head and left the room.

Left alone with Waterflower, Richard leaned over the bedside and observed this soulguard that had been the first of his followers. Her eyelids were quivering, a sign that she was awake.

The normal traces of wildness were completely absent from her face, replaced instead with a rare gentleness. This girl might have the talent to reach the legendary realm herself, but right now it wasn’t easy to survive a saint’s full-power strike. If not for her tenacity, she wouldn’t even have lasted to the end of the battle. Even so, it exhausted Io completely to bring her back from the edge of death. This wasn’t even the same Io as last year; having spent more than a year risking their lives to find offerings, the heavenly guardians had finally gotten Flowsand to upgrade them to level 18.

Waterflower hadn’t hesitated in the slightest when suffering the attack in his place. Only pure instincts would allow one to react in time to a saint’s strike, regardless of how close they were. That thought made Richard sigh heavily, his breath flowing across her face and causing her to finally open her eyes.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: OMA

Edited By: Theo